Fifty-years-ago I could not enter the public library in my southern segregated hometown of Lexington, MS. Nor could I attend a high school, the facility built for the Negro students who wished to excel was called, Lexington Attendance Center. There were many basic access problems for the Negro during my childhood. Not to be thwarted by what I was forbade by laws and practices from receiving, my village lead by my parents said, “Keep studying, keep trying and we will work to make changes for you.”
Fifty-years-ago, of the stores that we were allowed to patronize, we were only allowed to hold the garment in front of our bodies, never allowed to try-on the garment. So, instead, my mother made her children’s and other females in the village their clothing. Therefore, I learned to select fabric, patterns, how to measure all parts of the body so that the garment would be a customized design and fit. Hence, my mother became to “go to” seamstress in the neighborhood.
Some years ago, while attending my oldest brother’s funeral, a lady approached me inquiring if I was Ethel’s daughter. Ethel is my mother’s name. I said, “yes”. She said, “You wouldn’t remember me. You were very young. (I look like my mother). But Ethel made all my family’s clothes.” Proudly she proclaimed while smiling, “Ethel could take scraps of different fabrics, put them together and make all of us look good.” I smiled and told her thanks, remembering how I would help my mother with the gathering, hemming and cutting of the fabric then ironing and preparing the garments for pick-up. (She was teaching me business and service in a segregated era. I use those lesions today).
Institutionalized racism was brutal and embedded in it required a resilience that mandated vital strength, courage, hope and faith that through work, effort and presentence, things would be better for the next generation. Hope and trust in the next generation is that which the folks in my village were working toward. Those freedom fighter volunteers believed that we could make an impact on the world. They had taken the risks to allow freedom meetings to be held in their homes and churches to advance the cause and saturate the thirst for a better life. In my town it was Epworth AME Church. It was the store front business on Beal Street in my hometown where the Freedom Democratic Party met.
Fannie Lou Hammer, Robert G. Clark, Medgar Evers and others would come and plan. My mother would attend the meetings offering her ideas and services and she would allow me to attend the meetings and make copies and distribute them to the leaders and volunteers. It was Saints Junior College, the African American controlled church school operated by the Church of God in Christ that made its space available for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to come, speak and raise money for the civil rights movement. I was provided an opportunity to serve and to have had a chance to talk with Dr. King as a teenager. The white lady however, Mrs. Hazel Brandon Smith, lost her newspaper business because she allowed Dr. King to stay in her guesthouse.
The white merchants subsequently, boycotted her paper refusing to place advertisement in it and she went bankrupt.
My mother would say, “I want a better life for my 10 children so that they can have access to broader opportunities beyond the farm and what we do at home.”
Moving forward, we watched the result of our work coming to pass as the civil rights legislation was authorized by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. I witness my mother crying when President Johnson signed and spoke about the legislation he had signed. “The hope that reigns from the law is a reality, now we must change the hearts of men”, she said. Well, that is taking some more time.
Holding the Civil Rights Summit in Austin is apropos as it was President Johnson who seized the power of his office to advance the nation among racial matters. In his actions, he acknowledged that the Democratic Party had lost the south for the residuals of slavery were entrenched in the economic wealth of 13 slaves states. The republican party issued a statement about the Civil Rights Summit saying, “Embedded in the Republican Party’s DNA is a history of championing civil rights. What began with its founding by abolitionists and continued through its fight for the passage of the Civil Rights Act, today lives on in leading the charge for the civil rights issue of our time: equal access to a quality education.” – Orlando Watson, RNC Communications Director for Black Media.
Regardless of how much we hope for smooth sailing post civil rights legislation passage, changing the hearts of men is a difficult and stringent process. We are living in a world were the vestiges of the past lingers and it is holding on tighter as the opposing side is fearful of losses that it may endure.
Subsequently, new laws and court cases rise to the top such as the U.S. Supreme Court decision that questions the key provision of the 1964 Voting Rights Act which was a legacy piece of legislation during the Johnson presidency that removed restrictions for African American voters that aimed to enforce the 15th Amendment of the US Constitution.
Therefore, the children of the freedom fighters and their children still has work to do, should they choose to be able to utilize the benefits gained 50 years ago. We make the decisions about the kind of world we choose to live in based upon our actions. We likewise, make the decision to leave the kind of world for future generations based upon what we do today.
May God bless and I will see you next week.